Posted 06 December 2023
Interview by Yaya Clarke
Mention Shamila Sulaiman

From probation officer to UX designer: Shamila Sulaiman on the power of starting over

Shamila Sulaiman believes that you should never be afraid to start over – and, true to her word, that’s exactly what she did. Having left her career as a probation officer at HM Prison and Probation Service, she embarked on a new path as a UX (user experience) designer despite having no previous experience. That decision changed her life: after committing to a three-month UX design bootcamp, she found herself landing a job at BBC as a junior UX designer and has since gone into UX consulting. “Just do it,” she says about making a career change, “it'll all be worth it.” Here, Shamila speaks to us about taking impulsive chances, starting from scratch and finding alternative routes into UX design.

Shamila Sulaiman

Shamila Sulaiman

Job Title

UX Consultant, PA Consulting



Previous Employment

Junior UX Designer, BBC (2021–2022)
Probation Officer, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (2020-2021)
Trainee Probation Officer, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (2018-2020)

Place of Study

BSc Psychology, University of Essex (2010-2013)

Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
In a nutshell, my main responsibility as a designer is to create products that are meaningful, accessible, usable and enjoyable to interact with.

At the BBC, I was a junior UX designer for BBC News World Service. My tasks included conducting user research and creating user personas, organising content to guide users within an app or website, creating prototypes and developing interactive versions of products. I also took part in a bunch of meetings and design sessions with other designers, developers and business analysts.

I have now pivoted into a consultancy role at PA Consulting but I’m still a UX designer. Rather than working with in-house products, we work with a variety of clients from a number of disciplines to help solve problems and, essentially, come up with the best solutions. I have worked with companies such as National Institute for Health and Care Research, Building Safety Regulator and Patient Tracker.

If you could pick one emoji to describe what it’s like to work in your job, what would it be and why?
Definitely the prayer hands emoji because I am so thankful to God for the incredible, supportive team that I get to work with. They are amazing! 🙏

“As a designer, I create products that are meaningful, accessible, usable and enjoyable to interact with.”

What recent project are you most proud of?
Definitely the work that I have done with Building Safety Regulator. I learned how to code for this specific project, which was challenging in itself (front-end and back-end devs, you lot are superstars!) – and I love working on projects that are impactful for everyday people.

Following incidents like the horrific Grenfell disaster, I was tasked by the team at Building Safety Regulator to design a service for companies who wish to build or modify high-rise buildings. The service that I designed ensures that protocols are followed, preventing any disasters from occurring and needlessly taking the lives of innocent people.

What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now?
Cushions. Sometimes, I have to put my head down to rest – chronicles of an anaemic babe.

Making prototypes on Figma

How I got here

What kind of skills are needed to do your role?
The skills needed for my role mainly fall into the personal and professional. Personal skills include interpersonal skills, problem solving, being solution-focused, strategic planning and time management. The professional skills include the ability to carry out wireframing, prototyping, user research, ideation and more.

Would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
I think UX design bootcamps are great because they offer insights into the world of user experience. However, they aren't always affordable – some of these courses cost an arm and a leg. Also, some people do not have the time to embark on a course due to conflicting commitments.

The Love Circular course is brilliant, but it is also quite expensive. My cohort was the guinea pig cohort so it was free for us – it’s now over £2000, though you can pay a monthly instalment. Other popular bootcamps include those from CareerFoundry and General Assembly; alternatively, you can do the Google UX Design course on Coursera, which is far cheaper than a lot of those other courses.

How did you land the job?
I enrolled in a three-month UX training course at Love Circular, which literally takes people from being a novice in design to being at a junior level. During that time, I learnt about various UX concepts, principles and best practices. I also did daily UI challenges to strengthen my design skills.

Afterwards, we were tasked with creating our own case studies. These were all fictional scenarios where we had to pinpoint an area of improvement, but also include an additional feature that would improve the overall service. It’s important to do a case study on something that you are passionate about as it is likely that you will be questioned on your motivations when you’re interviewing for jobs – so I did one on Nando’s, another on HSBC and one about Bumble For Friends as I have an interest in love and relationships. After all these were completed, I was then ready to create a proper portfolio.

“Getting a job interview is tough, but it’s achievable. Build relationships and speak to those that make the decisions.”

Getting the interview was the toughest part, but it is feasible and achievable. I applied for my current job through the traditional route, but Love Circular taught us interview skills and tips about navigating the job market, which really helped. Build relationships with people via LinkedIn and speak to hiring managers as well as senior UX designers – they’re the people that make the decisions about who gets employed.

If I were to give any tips, I’d say speak to other designers because everyone has a very different route. I have spoken with people who are self-taught UX designers and they’ve been able to secure full time permanent roles, so it’s all very much down to the individual. Regardless of the route that you take, I would suggest doing some unpaid work and getting involved in hackathons where available, just to have some hands-on experience. You’ll be surprised: some of the junior roles ask for one to two years of experience even though they're meant to be entry level, which is madness.

Work that Shamila did for BBC Studios’ Showcase website

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
At the BBC, they’re great with new starters. They knew that I was quite new to UX, so they were extremely patient with me. They helped me identify my skills and placed me on projects I was best suited for. It did take a while to find my feet and I experienced a great deal of imposter syndrome, but with the fantastic team that I had, it was an awesome experience.

What influenced your journey from working as a probation officer to joining the Love Circular bootcamp?
I started working for the Ministry of Justice with the idea of wanting to change people’s lives and have a positive impact whilst working with offenders. However, I quickly learnt that until that individual is ready to change, it is a never-ending rollercoaster of chaos. I can categorically say that working as a probation officer was the worst job I have had in my entire life.

Thankfully, I attended a webinar about breaking into tech during lockdown and saw that it was a very lucrative career path. I then came across the Love Circular course and embarked on my journey from there.

“Never be afraid to start over. Don’t dwell on the implications of a career change, especially if you’re unhappy where you are.”

As a 32-year-old, I can wholeheartedly say that you must never be afraid to start over. Try not to dwell on the implications associated with changing careers – especially if you are currently unhappy where you are. I used to have so much anxiety about going to work as a probation officer: my sleep would get disturbed and I just wasn't myself. Even before joining the BBC, I was on ten weeks of sick leave because I disliked my workplace so much. Now, I’m much happier; I feel so much more whole and I’m thriving!

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Combatting imposter syndrome and realising that I do deserve to be here – it is not by mistake or coincidence that I am where I am.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Just do it. Worry about the technicalities afterwards. I have always been the impulsive type and it works in my favour most of the time. I self-funded all of my projects – including the plays I wrote and directed, Marry Me Now, Love Me Later and Roll Your Sleeves With Eve – and it can be very tough when you have payments coming out of your ears. But I am always assured in knowing that it will all be worth it.

'Marry Me Now, Love Me Later', Shamila Sulaiman (2020)
'Roll Your Sleeves with Eve', Shamila Sulaiman (2023)

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
“If you died tomorrow, your employer would replace you in a month.” So do something you enjoy! Don’t allow any job to rob you of your happiness.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Start connecting with designers on LinkedIn and set up some Zoom calls to talk through your portfolio or a particular job you are interested in. I am also on LinkedIn and socials, so I‘m happy for anyone to contact me with regards to getting into UX.

Interview by Yaya Clarke
Mention Shamila Sulaiman